There are over 4,500 episodes of Sesame Street, many of which are primarily lost to the fans. We’re reviewing some of the best, strangest, and rarest episodes out there in our series Sesame Rewind!
If you’re a Sesame Street fan, you probably love Follow That Bird, but did you know Big Bird almost made it to the big screen a few years earlier in a musical political spoof? It’s true! In 1982, there were at least two treatments written for a project referred to as Sesame Street – The Movie, in which Big Bird is elected president of the United States. President Bird might have fallen afoul of an evil war profiteer played by George C. Scott, hit Gerald Ford in the head with a baseball, or been replaced by a cigar-smoking Big Bird robot.
It’s so wild to think that there was ever a possibility that a version of this movie might have been made. You should definitely read all about it on Muppet Wiki right now.
If the pandemonium of those movie treatments are any indication, it’s probably a good thing Big Bird was never sworn in. And yet, this wasn’t the first time the notion of Big Bird running for president had come up. Back in 1975, Season 7’s Episode 797 found Big Bird launching a campaign in the hopes of trading his nest for the Oval Office.
As many Sesame Street episodes did back then, the street story opens with an unrelated scene. Oscar is paring down his tin can collection, and he offers up three of them to anyone who wants them. I suppose I could make a hacky joke about Oscar doing the Marie Kondo thing and giving these cans away because they don’t spark joy. But Oscar is a grouch, so he’s more likely to give them away because they do spark joy.
Maria, Luis, and David try to claim the cans, but they all have plans for them that involve pretty, nice, clean things, which disgusts Oscar and leads him to withdraw his offer. “FORGET it!” he yells. You can tell this episode is from a long time ago, because nobody ever mentions the possibility of recycling the cans.
The next street segment is where we start to get political. Big Bird is strolling past Hooper’s Store when he finds the grown-ups listening to the president of the United States giving a speech. (American history buffs will know that the man in the White House was be the aforementioned Gerald Ford at the time this episode aired.) Big Bird notices that the grown-ups are paying close attention to the speech, and that the audience on the radio applauds and cheers when the speech is done. “Boy,” he says. “That’s a pretty important person, isn’t it?” “Yeah, he’s right up there, Big Bird,” says Luis.
This sounds like a pretty appealing gig to the bird. “Imagine being president…” he ponders, then goes into a song called “President Bird.” He extols the qualities that make him an attractive candidate for the position of commander in chief, including the ability to read, count, and hop.
By the way, during this song, there’s a kid in the background who’s covering his ears. Man, I love the spontaneity of the real kids in Sesame Street in the old days.
When Big Bird finishes singing, chaos erupts. Luis and David run over to lift Big Bird up on their shoulders, which is kind of amazing when you remember that there’s a man inside that puppet. The music continues blaring as everyone marches around the arbor, and Big Bird keeps shouting about being president.
At one point he appears to say “I’M GONNA RUN FOR PRESIDENT! OF THE ACADEMY!” which may be a weird ad-lib about the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences? Eventually, Big Bird gets anxious about all the work he has to do, and he shouts “PUT ME DOWN!” for about a minute, but David and Luis pay no heed, insisting on parading him around for all eternity.
There’s no telling how long it took Big Bird to convince his friends to put him down, but after a cartoon about feelings, we return to the street, where Big Bird is holding a rally. He encourages everyone to vote for him, throws birdseed at the audience, and kisses a baby, encouraging the baby to vote for him. “A vote for me is a vote for a very large president!” he declares.
David, Maria, and Luis show up in the middle of this ridiculousness and ask what the heck is going on. Big Bird explains that he heard there’s an election coming up (That would be the 1976 election, for those keeping track), and he thinks he would be a great president. The grown-ups try to tell him that the president has to be educated and know a lot of things, to which Big Bird replies “I know how to play marbles!”
Then Luis notes that the president has to make very important decisions. Big Bird is confident in his decision-making abilities, but Maria suggests they do some roleplaying. Big Bird will pretend to be the president, and everyone else will pretend to be his fellow Americans.
Right away, Big Bird is into it because he loves being addressed as “Mr. President.” He announces that he’s made a decision, and everyone cheers. “Tomorrow will be National Bird Day, all over the country!” he says, to only slightly less-enthusiastic cheers. “And the next day will be National Flying Around Day! And the next day will be National Clean Out Your Bird Nest Day!”
Now the crowd is unimpressed. Big Bird’s administration is in trouble. He’s only been in office for a few seconds, and already his poll numbers are plummeting. There’s one little kid who makes a big show of sarcastically clapping, serving as the equivalent of a political satirist. But Big Bird continues: The next day will be… National Tailfeather Day!
The grownups, who are serving as both regular citizens and the president’s advisors in this simulation, remind him that there are a lot of people in this country who aren’t birds. “This country is made up of lots of different kinds of people and animals,” Maria says. “And when you’re a good president, you have to make good decisions for all the people, not just a select few.” She’s right, even if her failure to mention monsters and grouches feels like a glaring omission.
Big Bird considers this, then changes course: Tomorrow will be National Porcupine Day, then it’ll be National People with Curly Hair Day, then it’ll be National Icky Crawly Things with Wings Day. His poll numbers go up slightly, but he hasn’t won over all of the people all of the time.
Luis suggests that they see what Big Bird can do about the people’s problems. A kid approaches and complains that his baseball bat is bent. Another kid has a flat tire on his bike. Everyone else has problems of their own, which they all yell at President Bird simultaneously.
Finally, Big Bird makes his most important decision: He’s going to leave now, and go roller-skating. The citizens remain unruly, and insist that the president can’t just run off like that. The presidency is not a sometimes job!
That’s when Big Bird realizes he doesn’t want to president after all. He’s going to leave politics behind and go roller-skating. The rally is over, so David heads back over to Hooper’s Store to hang out, and turns the radio back on just in time to hear the news announce that the president of the United States is going roller-skating. A pretty good punchline! Unfortunately, my Google search for “Gerald Ford roller skating” did not turn up any photos.
Later, the grown-ups and kids clean up all the decorations, birdseed, and debris left in the arbor after the rally, and Maria takes the opportunity to use some differently-sized campaign buttons to play a game of “One of These Things.” So, back to business as usual on Sesame Street. But you know who’s not around to help with the cleanup? Big Bird! Now isn’t that convenient?
Look, going into this “Sesame Rewind,” I wasn’t necessarily planning to compare Big Bird to anyone specific who’s running for president in 2020, especially because my colleague Jarrod Fairclough did that last week in his excellent write-up of a later episode in which Cookie Monster launches his own campaign. But when I really think about what goes down in this episode, it’s impossible not to make those comparisons.
Yes, that’s right. I hate to say it, but Big Bird’s campaign and imaginary presidency reminds me of Donald Trump.
Much like Trump, he has the emotional maturity of a six-year-old. He decides to run for office mostly to feed his own ego. He also goes into it without grasping what the requirements of the job are, and he’s surprised when his constituents expect him to take actions that will benefit all Americans, not just a certain demographic.
Some will say this is a stretch, but when Big Bird carelessly throws birdseed at the audience and assumes they’ll appreciate it, it reminds me of Trump gleefully lobbing paper towels at hurricane victims in Puerto Rico. And the part where Big Bird wants to run away from the responsibilities of the office to go roller-skating? Just swap “roller-skating” with “play golf” in that sentence and you have an accurate description of how Trump has spent much of his administration.
And just like Big Bird, who’s absent for the clean-up after his rally, Trump has created a lot of big messes for somebody else – somebody better equipped — to clean up.
When Jarrod published his Cookie Monster piece last week, we got a few comments that amounted to “Wait a minute! Don’t compare Cookie Monster to Trump! Cookie Monster is way better than that jerk!” And that’s true, he is. And Big Bird is also way better than Trump. So you’re probably saying “Don’t compare Big Bird to that jerk!”
But while Big Bird is just as unqualified to be president as Trump, there’s a major difference: Big Bird is self-aware enough to comprehend that fact. He’s smart enough and humble enough to realize he’s not suited for the job, so he drops out. After blundering through four years of scandal and disaster, Trump still thinks he’s good at it. Big Bird has taught a lot of people a lot of lessons over the years. It’s too bad Trump never saw this episode, or he might have learned when to quit.
By the way: Big Bird is 29 years too young to be president. Why didn’t any of the grown-ups tell him that?
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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com